Dear Big Brother: Choices

fork in the road

Every other Friday in Dear Big Brother, Michael Alexander writes open letters to one of the most important influences on his life.

Dear Big Brother,

Sir Isaac Newton once said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And as I’ve grown under your tutelage, I have come to know this firsthand. Independent by nature, I am what mom calls “hard-headed.” But you taught me that it wasn’t always a terrible idea to follow my own path. Rather, you taught me to be aware of my choices and to take accountability when warranted. I remember having to defend why I would rather listen to Ja Rule, as opposed to an Akon track. Or explaining why The Roots concert I saw my sophomore year in college would never come close to being replicated. We as humans, whether we know it or not, constantly make choices that put us in such situations.

I was never a stranger to following my own routine, especially when it came to music. You showed me that it was acceptable to like things that other people frowned upon. “Rap music,” outsiders would say, “is nothing but some thugs rapping about money, clothes and hoes.” How small-minded must a person be to encompass all rappers under such an umbrella? You remember Martin; he was one of the earliest friends to show me that rap was more than that. Imagine a little Ecuadorian kid schooling me on the complexity of Tupac Shakur. But that was the case. Even though Tupac had some of the most violent lyrical content I’d been exposed to, you told me to dig deeper. It was a journey you encouraged me to take in order to unmask the pain and misunderstandings that he endured in his life. No man is born with such anger and hatred toward others; there is always reason. And that’s where a man is left to decide when he is confronted by choices. To remain idle and let things that negatively affect his nature go unabated, or to speak out. To subside what he felt were wrongs done upon him, or acknowledge them. His canvas was cassette tapes and compact discs that transformed his pain into music. When others saw it as vulgar and hardcore, you taught me to discover its majestic nature. This also sharpened my patience, which I still have a hard time with. But all things aren’t made readily available to everybody; it takes time and dedication to truly decipher certain things, especially music.

Questions began to formulate in my head. What does he mean by “Amerika’s Most Wanted”? Why did he make “Dear Mama”? The Rose That Grew From Concrete doesn’t seem gangster to me; he’s a poet turned rapper? What most of us would do today as recourse to find this answer is search it on Google, get somebody else’s contrived-ass answer and be satisfied. You raised me well enough to know I’m not wired that way. I was that annoying little kid who constantly asked “why” over and over. But unfortunately, at that age I was unable to fully grasp the true meaning. However, as I grew and matured, I went back and revisited those albums and those songs, and realized that I may have discovered why he chose his method of confrontation. He was taking a stand. He was raising a middle finger to those who doubted him, those who belittled him, those who hated him. He knew that he had finally found an outlet to release his pent-up aggression, hurt, fears and problems by way of the mic.

It’s becoming more and more apparent how much people confide in you, big brother. But there are some times where we make the wrong decision and in turn regret our choices. You taught me how beautiful such a quandary can potentially be. A hidden lesson that hopefully steers one clear of making the same mistakes. To jog your memory, remember how we almost lost touch? I mentioned it in my previous letter, but I was seriously thinking about distancing myself from you. You didn’t beg me or try to persuade me. Instead, you elected to let me make my own decision. But during the winter of ’07 you gave me Lupe’s The Cool. I was seriously considering researching the whole soul music era. Remember how you looked at me when I bought Bill Withers’ greatest hits? But Lupe demonstrated that there was still talent out there. Or more importantly, there was still hope for your legacy.

From your Little Brother,